Tony Ward: The notion that those still inhabiting Ross O'Carroll-Kelly land can afford €40 per child per match is well wide of the mark
WHATEVER criticisms can be levelled at the IRFU, underselling its product is most certainly not one. Few if any sporting bodies have taken to professional sport as well as the governing organisation of the oval code here have done.
There have been casualties, not least at club level, but in overall terms what we have is an extremely efficient game administered by an extremely efficient organisation.
The new Lansdowne Road/Aviva Stadium -- call it what you will -- bears testimony to the foresight and efficiency of the IRFU. That said, they are still capable of the occasional howler. The decision to hike up ticket prices at a time when the country is on its economic knees smacks of arrogance and insensitivity in the extreme.
As a former international I am in the privileged position of being allowed to purchase two tickets for every home game. The cost of 12 tickets -- two for each of the four upcoming autumn internationals and two Six Nations 2011 games -- comes to €1,080, an average of €90 a game.
My 'Ex-International' ticket application form was accompanied with the proviso, underlined and in bold type, that:
"DUE TO UNPRECEDENTED INTEREST IN THE NEW AVIVA STADIUM THIS FORM MUST BE RETURNED TO THE UNDERSIGNED (with accompanying payment) NO LATER THAN FRIDAY 13th AUGUST. OTHERWISE YOUR RESERVATION CANNOT BE GUARANTEED."
Given an unprecedented level of interest in rugby these days, market forces -- supply and demand -- have the Union milking it while the product is hot. The new stadium will be packed to capacity for four of the six games and possibly for a fifth (Argentina). Only the Samoan game will cause anxiety within the Union.
Mind you, for those who have attended Ireland-Argentina games in the past, the prospect of the Pumas running out in D4 in late November is hardly one to have the adrenalin pumping. But the real hardship, the severest financial pain, is borne by families.
The argument that, in order to maintain the competitive standards to which we have become accustomed we must pay top euro, is not good enough. I support the Union's marketing stance in relation to pay-per-view TV and indeed premium seats embracing hospitality. However, when it comes to nurturing interest amongst future generations, the IRFU has a moral and practical responsibility.
There are more children than ever wanting to play the game -- visit any rugby club any Saturday morning to see evidence of this. For this, the governing body can take much credit, but with it comes the responsibility of making the game accessible to tomorrow's stars. The notion that those still inhabiting Ross O'Carroll-Kelly land can afford €40 per child per match is well wide of the mark.
The decision to hike up schoolboy prices by as much as €30 per match is not justified on the basis of "sheltered individual seats". Schoolboys don't want seats. They much prefer the unsheltered Lansdowne Road/Hill 16 terrace accommodation and atmosphere of old.
By not factoring in a schoolboy section in the new stadium plan the Union have backed themselves into a corner but it is the schoolboys, and more specifically their parents, who are charged with the financial burden of getting them out of it.
My earliest childhood memories are of soccer at Milltown, Richmond, Tolka and Dalymount and rugby at Lansdowne. That was in the 1960s and I was smitten. The sporting bug had bitten. I wanted one day to be out there centre stage.
There is nothing like live sport to generate interest. To deny this underage generation, through madcap pricing, that right is both careless and irresponsible.
It also smacks of naked arrogance based on the short-term theory that one bum is the same as the next and almost every seat will be filled regardless.
Dare one suggest the IRFU take note of the increasing number of empty seats at Super 14 and Tri Nations games in the southern hemisphere in recent times. Certainly, the Goose and the Golden Egg should be registering with those charged with ticket pricing in this neck of the woods.
Just a fortnight ago I visited my beloved Leeds. A top Super League ticket in the Carnegie Stand for Leeds Rhinos against the Catalan Dragons at Headingley cost £28, while a premium seat in the John Charles Stand at Elland Road for a Championship game against Millwall was £34.
That converts to around €75 for both. Not Test-level sport, I know, but for product value it is pretty hard to beat.
Elsewhere, Scotland's Category 1 tickets for the visit of the All Blacks to Murrayfield will cost £45 while U-18 (schoolboys) tickets will start at £10.
There is still time for the IRFU to have a radical rethink and re-adjust underage pricing at the very least. €20 for the big four games (South Africa and New Zealand in November; France and England next spring), €15 for the Pumas and €10 for the visit of Samoa seem much more realistic prices in my book.
As we have all learnt through the property madness, the one thing about bubbles is that they eventually burst. Don't say we haven't been warned.